Unraveled: Film Review

Gripping doc finds the humanity in a misguided Master of the Universe.

The documentary centers on attorney Marc Dreier, who embezzled more than $400 million from hedge funds and private individuals.

A mini-genre of documentaries about the financial crisis has erupted in the last couple of years; they include the Oscar-winning Inside Job, Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and the upcoming Chasing Madoff.  One of the most incisive to add to the list is Marc H. Simon’s Unraveled, which was showcased at the Los Angeles Film Festival. This is a less comprehensive work than Inside Job, concentrating on one white collar criminal -- attorney Marc Dreier, who embezzled more than $400 million from hedge funds and a few private individuals.  Simon, an attorney who once worked for Dreier, was granted unprecedented access to his former employer during Dreier’s 60-day house arrest in between his conviction and sentencing. The fascinating human portrait that emerges should draw appreciative if limited audiences.

Most of the film consists of Dreier himself reflecting on his past. The film also records Dreier’s interactions with his son and with attorneys who advise him on how to prepare for his sentencing hearing. The action takes place in Dreier’s lavish, Upper East Side apartment, adorned with Warhol and Rothko paintings. Dreier’s other possessions included a $12 million home in the Hamptons and an $18 million yacht. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School, Dreier is not just high-powered but whip-smart; one amusing sequence shows him matching wits with the players on Jeopardy and answering every question before the contestants. But to maintain his lavish lifestyle and his growing legal empire, he swindled and borrowed money that he could not repay.

While the film is clearly intended as an indictment of the culture of greed that poisoned so much of American culture during the last decade, one longs for more psychological insight into Dreier’s compulsions. At one point Dreier says that his dissatisfaction with his personal life led him to seek compensation in the reckless acquisition of money and possessions, but he provides few details that might put a more illuminating face on an all-too-common syndrome. Other elements in the film are far more telling, as when Dreier reveals his fears about what prison life will entail. (He was eventually sentenced to 20 years in a minimum-security prison.)

Dreier insists that he was not comparable to Bernard Madoff, who decimated the savings of thousands of ordinary Americans. And the judge who sentenced Dreier acknowledged the distinctions between the two men. But the 800 people who worked for Dreier’s law firm all lost their jobs when their boss imploded. Still, one comes away from the film feeling a measure of sympathy for an obviously gifted man who lost his way. The film is elegantly made, with some effective animated sequences designed by Jeremiah Wallis. Chris Hajian’s plaintive score adds to the poignancy of this American odyssey.

Venue: Los Angeles Film Festival
Director: Marc H. Simon
Producers: Marc H. Simon, Matthew Brian Makar, Steven Cantor, Miranda Bailey
Executive producer: Tony Tamberelli
Director of photography: Bob Richman
Music: Chris Hajian
Editors: Alyse Ardell Spiegel, Christina Burchard
No rating, 84 minutes